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Complaints and whistleblowing

  1. Complaints and whistleblowing processes should have been an important safeguard against poor treatment or abuse of detained people.
  2. Some detained people did not understand how to complain or what safeguards should be in place, or did not have confidence in making a complaint or reporting poor treatment by staff. The Inquiry received evidence setting out various possible reasons why detained people felt unable to complain about poor treatment, either at the time or at all, including a fear of repercussions. I am therefore recommending that both the Home Office and contractors take further action to improve the processes by which detained people can make complaints, and the handling of those complaints.
Recommendation 28: Action to address barriers to making complaints

The Home Office and its contractors operating immigration removal centres must take steps to identify and address the barriers to making complaints that are faced by detained people, including a fear of repercussions. This must include training for staff on their role in enabling detained people to overcome these barriers.
  1. Complaints involving serious misconduct by staff at Brook House were required to be allocated to the Home Office’s Professional Standards Unit (PSU) for investigation. The Inquiry saw a number of occasions in which cases were not progressed as they should have been because, for example, cases were wrongly allocated to G4S for investigation. It also identified some concerns arising from the PSU’s investigations spanning the investigation process, the decision-making process, and the communication of outcomes. For example, there were investigations that did not include interviews with key witnesses. There was no consistent practice by PSU investigators of showing relevant evidence to a complainant and allowing them to comment on it where there were inconsistencies. There was also no requirement for investigating officers to obtain or be provided with information about previous complaints against staff they were investigating – even where they concerned similar matters – which resulted in some investigations failing to take into account relevant information. In addition, the Inquiry identified failures to look for potentially supportive evidence and a tendency to afford unequal weight to the evidence of staff and detained people, as well as to find that use of force was justified.
  2. In most cases, the report detailing the outcome of a PSU investigation would be sent to the Home Office Detention and Escorting Services, and a separate, shorter letter would be sent to the complainant. Having a separate report and letter – where the letter truncates a full report – poses a risk that the complainant will not know the full basis for the decision. It also reduces the transparency of the process and potentially confidence in it.
  3. These concerning themes are likely to reflect, at least in part, the inadequate training of investigators. I am therefore recommending steps to improve the quality of investigations conducted by the PSU.
Recommendation 29: Improving investigations by the Home Office Professional Standards Unit

The Home Office must update Detention Services Order 03/2015: Handling of Complaints to clarify that, in investigations carried out by the Professional Standards Unit into allegations of serious misconduct against contractor staff:

●  Professional Standards Unit investigators must carry out interviews themselves and not rely on contractors to do so.
●  All staff against whom allegations are made must be invited to interview.
●  Where there are inconsistencies between any accounts given of events, any evidence relating to those accounts (including footage and documentation) obtained by an investigating officer must be shown to the complainant and to the subject of the complaint, prior to reaching a conclusion.
●  The Professional Standards Unit must be given information about previous complaints made against alleged perpetrators, including unsubstantiated complaints.
●  Previous disciplinary action against alleged perpetrators must be taken into account.
●  Investigators must look for evidence that is both supportive and undermining of the complaint.
●  Full reports must be sent to complainants (and their solicitors if applicable).
●  Investigation reports and/or outcome letters must be sent directly from the PSU to complainants (and their solicitors if applicable).

The Home Office Professional Standards Unit must ensure that training about the updated guidance takes place on a regular (at least annual) basis for staff dealing with investigations, as well as those responsible for managing them. The training must be subject to an assessment.

The Professional Standards Unit must also review the training provided to investigators and ensure that investigators receive regular and adequate training, from a variety of perspectives, on issues including:

●  the nature of immigration removal centres and issues that may arise;
●  obstacles that detained people may face in making complaints;
●  interviewing vulnerable witnesses; and
●  use of force and assessing reasonableness of force.
  1. Given its role, the independence of the PSU is important for confidence and fairness. The PSU is the responsibility of the Home Secretary, who is also responsible for immigration removal centres. Although the Inquiry did not see any evidence of PSU decision-making being improperly influenced by the Home Office, there is a reasonable perception held by detained people or formerly detained people that the PSU was not and arguably still is not independent. This was compounded by the way in which the outcome of some PSU investigations was communicated, as discussed above. The disparity in seniority between the Head of the PSU and the Heads of the relevant Home Office Immigration Enforcement teams may give the perception of insufficient importance being placed on the PSU’s role. I am therefore recommending improvements to enhance the independence of the PSU.
Recommendation 30: Improving the independence of the Home Office Professional Standards Unit

The Home Office must:

●  take steps to enhance the independence of the Professional Standards Unit from the Home Office and the perception of this independence; and
●  increase the seniority of the Head of the Professional Standards Unit so that they are closer in status to the Heads of the relevant Home Office Immigration Enforcement teams.
  1. Although G4S’s whistleblowing policy “strongly encouraged” employees to report concerns about serious wrongdoing, there was often an inadequate response and the Senior Management Team (SMT) was described by one G4S staff member as “consistently uninterested”.1
  2. Some members of staff said that if they had heard or seen anything inappropriate they would have reported it. I saw little evidence to suggest that there was a culture or practice of reporting colleagues for inappropriate behaviour towards, or poor treatment of, detained people. G4S failed to take adequate steps to make staff aware of the process and encourage them to use it, or to counter any fear of repercussions or a culture of not ‘grassing’. Mr Callum Tulley, a Detention Custody Officer until July 2017, described a “culture in Brook House which was so hostile to whistleblowing”.2 Whistleblowing processes in place during the relevant period were inadequate, ineffective and did not specifically relate to Brook House or immigration removal centres. Subsequent changes are welcome but, in my view, they do not go far enough and do not address some of the specific concerns identified above. I am therefore recommending improvements to whistleblowing policies and processes.
Recommendation 31: Improving the process for and response to whistleblowing

The Home Office must update Detention Services Order 03/2020: Whistleblowing – The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 to require contractors that run immigration removal centres to:

●  have a whistleblowing policy and procedure that is specific to the immigration detention environment;
●  ensure that the whistleblowing mechanism is not limited to a hotline and allows for anonymous reporting of concerns;
●  ensure that those who receive whistleblowing concerns have an understanding of immigration removal centres;
●  take active steps to encourage staff to use whistleblowing processes, for reasons including those set out at paragraph 10 of Detention Services Order 03/2020; and
●  ensure that whistleblowing concerns are investigated thoroughly by someone external to the immigration removal centre, and that the Home Office is informed of the nature of the concern and the investigation carried out.

The Home Office must ensure that training about the updated guidance takes place on a regular (at least annual) basis for staff dealing with whistleblowing, as well as those responsible for managing them. The training must be subject to an assessment.


  1. CJS000707; CJS0073632; CJS0073633_004-005; CJS0073677_001-002; CJS0073631_001; HOM032609; CJS0073631_002-003; CJS0073688; CJS0073631_004-005; INQ000172_003 paras 8-9[]
  2. INQ000052_018 para 75[]